Journalism Integrity Award: And the winner is…

Janice NeilEmployees who rescued a local TV station win J-Source’s first Journalism Integrity Award. J-Source editor-in-chief and chair of the awards committee, Janice Neil, explains why.

“At a time when traditional media business models are severely challenged and, in some cases, collapsing, journalists themselves are being called on to play a leadership role in creating financially sustainable journalism organizations. The employees of CHEK TV have done exactly that, putting their own careers and finances on the line to rescue a local television station and, in doing so, enhance the station’s commitment to providing news and information to the community.”
                                                                                                            –J-Source editorial committee member

The gutsy employees of CHEK-TV in Victoria who refused to give up their fight to save local TV have been chosen as the 2009 winners of the J-Source Journalism Integrity Award.

Canwest Global announced last February it would explore “strategic options”, for CHEK and its other E! stations, but by mid-summer when it failed to find a buyer, it announced the station would be shut down.

The employees of CHEK announced a takeover plan to acquire 25 percent of the station and find local investors to own the remaining 75 percent. They also organized a campaign to support the plan and save CHEK.

Their fight to save the station was formidable: employees raised $2.5 million  within a few weeks, and on September 4, Canwest announced it had reached a deal to sell the station to CHEK employees and local investors for $2 including some programming, use of its Vancouver studios, and leasing, studios at favourable rates.

But the employees rebuffed Canwest’s proposal to provide transitional support and instead, the station manager John Pollard is leading employees to operate CHEK as a local independent station, dedicated to improving the quality and quantity of local news, including a new 10 p.m. newscast (and a new schedule mix of movies, older programming -both Canadian and American – and syndicated programming).  

In voting for CHEK-TV employees as the winner of the 2009 Journalism Integrity Award, members of J-Source’s editorial committee applauded  the “guts” of the staff who refused to give up. “Journalists who take control of their future and their craft are role models who inspire others, and provide hope for a future in quality journalism,” one editorial committee member commented.

“It’s no secret that local TV news stations are struggling across the country, and I think it’s incredible that CHEK-TV was able to rally so much support to save the station,” added another. “What better way for a broadcast news team to employ a sense of integrity than to ensure, against all opposition, that it can continue to provide strong and focused local news coverage to its audience?”

The J-Source Awards Committee was dazzled by the impressive field of nominations for the first-ever award, chosen in a final vote by the 20 members of the J-Source editorial committee.

There was also strong support  for two other nominees, who tied for second place: the Canadian Media Lawyers Association and The Hamilton Spectator newsroom.

Members of the editorial committee applauded the nomination of the Canadian media lawyers’ fight for press freedom. The nominator wrote: “The past 18 months have seen an unprecedented succession of substantial top- level cases, including two vital rulings (WIC Radio and Grant-Cusson) that rocked libel plaintiffs onto their heels by invigorating and expanding one vital defence (fair comment) and creating a new one (responsible communication).” One voter commented, “Thanks to their efforts, Canada’s courts are now defining and upholding the right of journalists to practise responsible journalism and the right of Canadians to know what responsible journalism uncovers.”

The Hamilton Spectator was nominated for its commitment to integrity, including its accuracy policy and its victim notification protocol. One voter observed, “all news media take matters of accuracy, ethics and integrity seriously. The Spec, however, has raised the bar and created a newsroom culture that embraces these values in an ongoing atmosphere of continuing education with relevant case studies, and editorial discussions.”

–Janice Neil, chair, J-Source awards committee and editor-in-chief